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Mamukelashvili has career game in Big East opener against St. John’s

Sandro Mamukelashvili had tough end to Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule, scoring just six points and getting ejected against Wagner on Tuesday night. Ike Obiagu and Jared Rhoden picked up the offensive responsibilities following Mamukelashvili’s ejection, but the Georgian forward bounced back with a career-high 32-point performance against St. John’s to lead the Pirates to a win in their Big East opener.

“I’m ecstatic with the way he played,” head coach Kevin Willard said. “We knew we were going to need him to be more of a point guard today because of the way St. John’s takes you out of your offense. The great thing about Sandro is that when he gets a head of steam going downhill, he’s tough. I think he’s just grown into the player I knew he would be.”

Mamukelashvili also made his presence felt defensively off the glass with eight of his nine rebounds coming in the backcourt. Seton Hall began the game with Ike Obiagu scoring two of their opening three baskets, but once Mamukelashvili found his groove in the game there was no going back to playing through Obiagu in the same way the team did against Wagner.

Photo by Charles Fox

“It feels amazing for coach to trust me that much to hold the ball and bring it up the court,” Mamukelashvili said. “I could never do this without my teammates or the coaching staff. They’ve invested so much in me over the last three years to prepare me for moments like this.”

St. John’s quickly settled into their aggressive defensive shape with Posh Alexander holding Shavar Reynolds to just four points and an assist in the first half. As the Pirates looked towards Mamukelashvili to carry the ball up court, they found for more success through the Georgian’s ability to get to the net and dish the ball out to open teammates under pressure.

Even under St. John’s intense pressure, Seton Hall still managed to outscore the Johnnies from points on turnovers and only gave up six turnovers in the first half. St. John’s failed to make either Mamukelashvili or Reynolds turn the ball over once in the first half with most of the Pirates’ turnovers coming from travels or Obiagu contesting for possession down low.

“I thought we handled their pressure okay,” Willard said. “Getting [St. John’s] to play in a half court is your goal against them because they’re so good in transition and at creating live-ball turnovers.”

Takal Molson put in another solid shift off the bench, contributing 14 points, nine of which came from the free throw line, and five rebounds. He stabilized the team as St. John’s made a slight resurgence midway through the second half, but his biggest contributions came in the frontcourt where he showcased his ability to make smart plays that forced St. John’s into fouling him. He scored the final basket of the game from the free throw line to wrap up Seton Hall’s 77-68 win over the Johnnies.

Key Takeaways

  • This was a scary performance from Mamukelashvili. He showed flashes of being unstoppable in second half performances against Louisville, the University of Rhode Island, and Penn State, but this was his first complete performance of the season. Even when given the extra responsibility of carrying the ball forward and running the Pirates’ defense, Mamukelashvili still found the opportunities to go to net. Shooting 12-18 and 3-5 from behind the arc isn’t a bad rhythm for the Georgian to get into heading into a clustered run of Big East games to close out the month.
  • Takal Molson continues to improve with every game. Willard said after the game that he needs to come into the first half of games more aggressively – he finished it with three rebounds and two assists – but his second half performance was instrumental in killing St. John’s fast-paced style of play towards the end of the game. Molson’s truly embraced the “junkyard-dog” player profile for Seton Hall, and he even said it’s one of the best compliments a coach could give a player.
  • Disappointing night for Jared Rhoden. Although Mamukelashvili ran the show on the night, Rhoden still only took five shots and made just one of them. He finished with the tied-most rebounds for the Pirates with Mamukelashvili at nine, but he also gave up three turnovers throughout the game. He’s shown he has the ability to explode on the court when needed and if he can find a bit mor consistency with those types of performances even when his teammates are hot, Seton Hall are going to incredibly difficult to guard.

Justin Sousa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.

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